On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee had a hearing on Marsy’s Law which would place crime victims’ rights into the constitutions of states that haven’t done so. Georgia is one of 15 states that has yet to do this with North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana passing the law overwhelmingly in November. State Senator John Kennedy (R-Macon) sponsored the bill with 20 co-sponsors to include President Pro tem David Shafer, Sen. Jeff Mullis, Sen. William Ligon, Sen. John Albers, and Sen. Nan Orrock. The legislation would add seven new rights to the Georgia Constitution in regards to crime victims and their ability and right to be heard during court proceedings involving their perpetrator, alleged or convicted. And while Georgia currently boasts a Victim’s Bill of Rights, Senator Kennedy’s Senate Resolution 146 would place the language in the Georgia Constitution, giving teeth to laws that Marsy’s Law advocates have testified to not existing.
Marsy’s Law would give victims the right to be heard in court, the right to notifications of judicial proceedings, parole hearings, change of custody status, etc. And while it may seem obvious that these things are in place, a spokesperson for Marsy’s Law says that, in fact, they are not. “One mother’s son was murdered, the killer let out of prison and she was never notified. She found out on social media and had to work for weeks to convince the powers that be that he had been wrongfully released before his term was up,” says the spokesperson. “Another mom’s daughter was killed by a distracted driver. She was never notified of court proceedings and the driver never served time; her daughter wasn’t even mentioned in the court transcript. Another is a mom whose young daughters were molested and she can’t get answers for why the perpetrator hasn’t been arrested despite physical evidence.”
Directly after the testimony of the victims on Tuesday, Gwinnett DA Danny Porter and Prosecuting Attorneys Council director Chuck Spahos testified stating they have yet to hear a case where a victim needed constitutional rights because these rights are already in statute.
However, testimony shows there are problems in some places and when a victims’ rights aren’t carried out, the victim currently has no standing. Julie Allison, a victim advocate from Columbus who goes to the parole board every year to make sure her father’s killer isn’t released, testified that when she’s working on behalf of new victims, she’s often told their rights aren’t really enforceable.
Advocates for Marsy’s Law have been working with Prosecutors to reach an agreement on this legislation for over a year. Hours before Tuesday’s hearing, prosecutors offered up revised language. The prosecutors argued that if Marsy’s Law was placed into the constitution, it would prevent advocates from strengthening victims’ rights in the future. Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Smyrna) pointed out that putting it in the constitution does no such thing noting the 2nd Amendment doesn’t prevent Congress from having laws about gun rights.
Thirty-five states have amended their constitutions to reflect Marsy’s Law. Amending the Georgia constitution would give teeth to the laws here at home that require victim notification, not just in general, but in a timely manner. Marsy’s Law being placed in the Georgia Constitution would ensure that victims are notified of court hearings, that they have right to provide input to prosecutors before pleas are made, the right to be heard and the right to restitution.
The law-abiding constituents of Georgia deserve the same rights as victims as are afforded to the criminals in our system. And at the very least, they deserve the right to have the measure put on the ballot.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is meeting today at 4pm with Marsy’s Law on the agenda once again.